Ready for some flag football, Colts fans?
When the Colts and the Saints get together at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night, the CBS telecast should open with an entirely new promo song:
Are you ready for some flag football?
The way things are going in the preseason, that’s exactly what we’re going to see. The league-wide trend toward hyper-flagging of defensive coverage violations has resulted in some staggering statistics and mind-numbing games.
In the Colts’ 27-26 loss to the Giants, the teams combined for 26 penalties – 13 apiece – covering 209 yards. And those were just the accepted penalties. And that was only slightly higher than the norm. In this past week’s 14 preseason games, the average was 20.4 combined penalties for 170.1 yards.
The Saints were hit 22 times for 184 yards and still beat Tennessee 31-24.
“We’ve got to do a better job and we’ll continue to do that,” said Chuck Pagano in a conference call Sunday evening. “We understand the points of emphasis, what they are. Certainly, 13 penalties (Saturday) night and you had the illegal contacts and things like that, so we’ve got to do a great job of continuing to emphasize to our guys because they made a huge point of emphasis and we’ve got to play within the framework of the rules.
“We’re going to be aggressive and try to get our hands on people. They’re going to give you a healthy five yards is what they talk about, then you’ve got to shadow and you’ve got to cover and you’ve got to use great technique and things like that. So we will continue to stress that because we saw last night firsthand big play opportunities, turnovers negated because of some of those penalties.”
The Giants’ rally from a 26-0 fourth-quarter deficit was fueled by flags. Consecutive illegal contact calls advanced one touchdown drive, and a pass interference call in the end zone set up the deciding score. This from a Colts team that was the least-penalized in the NFL last season (66).
The Colts were called for seven coverage penalties against the Giants (four illegal contacts, two holding and one pass interference); all of last season, they were called for 17.
For a team that depends on the abilities of cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler to play aggressive press coverage, the NFL’s decision to lower the boom on contact past the five-yard buffer zone could prove costly – assuming it continues into the regular season.
“We are going to be aggressive, that’s not going to change,” Pagano said. “We ask a lot of those guys and our cornerbacks and nickel backs and safeties have to do it, and linebackers; all cover personnel. We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to play a bunch of press-man, play tight coverage. Not to say that we won’t mix in zone concepts here and there, but again, you’ve got to emphasize it every day in practice, every rep, because you’re going to play exactly like you practice.
“We’ve got to do a great job putting them in situations in practice and stressing the fundamentals and techniques, and how it’s being officiated right now, and just continue to stress that. We’re not going to change our mentality as far as how we play defense and how we want to play defense.”
The theory behind this emphasis is that the Seahawks’ big, bad secondary got away with murder on the way to winning the Super Bowl. But the facts suggest otherwise. Seattle was the most-penalized team in the league, including an NFL-high 13 defensive pass interference flags.
But the key call this year is illegal contact; in that category, Seattle posted a goose-egg last year. League-wide, the average was one illegal contact call per seven games played in 2013; in the preseason thus far, the average is 1.6 per game.
After his team tied the NFL preseason record for penalties, Saints coach Sean Payton was obviously agitated by what had just transpired. And again, his team won.
“It’s tough when you hand out 40 tests, and you’re a teacher, and everyone gets a D or an F, you’ve got to look at what you’re doing,” he said. “So, obviously, we’ve got a lot of work we’ve got to cover.”
The teams aren’t the only ones that need to double-check their work.
A league notoriously slow to act in areas of real importance has been quick to overreact to what was nothing more than a blip on the radar last season, and the result has been a hailstorm of yellow flags.
You can duck, but don’t dare try to cover.